This workshop has been a great way to brainstorm a new project, but it does add a level of challenge when we're supposed to be working with a pre-existing framework. I'll just share the most useful parts of today's brainstorming to see if you fine people have "illuminating" (or "entertaining"!) thoughts:
1. I'd like to ask a question: does it make sense for the MC to be the "intensified anyone" character? Especially since she is a bigwig political wife, that presents some interesting possibilities, doesn't it?
2. What readers won't want to hear:
The immigration question is going to be touchy. I think about half the population will be uncomfortable with the idea that we should treat with dignity the illegal immigrant child thieving in the night to survive, just as much as we do people born here, with the "right" color skin/mother tongue.
To make that happen, I think I have to tweak my original thought about Danica finding a baby she wants to raise. I think it's actually an older child--six or seven--who came here as a young child with his/her parents. Maybe they came legally to do migrant work and then someone got sick and they never left. I also think there are actually two children—the older one caring for the younger, one born in the U.S., one born in Mexico (or perhaps Central America), and now both parents are dead, and all their family back in Mexico/Central America is mired in poverty and possibly gang violence. I'll have to do a lot of research to figure this angle out, but basically the tough choice is: one of these kids is legal U.S. citizen, the other isn't. But if they're deported, they’re going "home" to an environment neither one knows, an environment filled with violence and crime--but if they're allowed to stay, at least one of them is going to be reaping the benefit of a system of support to which they don't have a "right."
In other words, what I think I want to challenge is the idea that things can be reduced to black and white, right or wrong. If I can nail the complexity of gray between “let them all in” and “build a wall,” that would be amazing.
3. Finally, my free-write passage, between Dani, the political wife, and her husband Jim:
“Jim, I want to adopt these kids.”
“You want to what?”
“You heard me.”
“We can’t adopt these kids, Dani. I know your heart’s in the right place, but can you imagine how that would play out with the party base?”
“Stop thinking like a political candidate for a second and think like a human being. What is going to happen to them if we don’t?”
Livvy came tearing through the kitchen, screaming, “Stop it! I had it first!”
“But it’s my light saber!” yelled Brett.
“Kids!” thundered Jim. Both of them skidded to a stop. Nobody could cow Brett except his father. “I’m trying to think!”
Danica reached out a hand to each of them—her two golden-haired children, borne in her womb, nourished at her breasts. In her mind, they were now sandwiched between those two dark-haired children, another boy and a girl.
Like double-stuffed Oreos.
If she wanted those two children, she’d better not ever let that thought out. Even in her head, it sounded racist.
Outside, she could hear Julian humming tunelessly. “Hey, kids, why don’t you go ask Uncle Julian to help you pick some flowers for Grandma?”
Brett’s eyes widened. “The, you know, the retard?”
Danica’s jaw tightened. “Where did you hear that word?” she demanded.
Her son’s shoulders hunched, his eyes sliding toward Jim without even realizing it.
Danica squared her shoulders. “We do not use that word. Ever. Do you understand me? I don’t care who else says it. Uncle Julian is one of the best people you’ll ever meet. Now go on, and I don’t want to hear that word ever again. Understand?”
“Yes, Mommy.” Brett glanced at Livvy. “Bet I can beat you outside!”
“No fair!” yelled Livvy, tearing after her twin. The screen door shrieked open and slammed shut.
Danica looked back at Jim, her nostrils flaring. If her husband could use language like that about someone so close to her own family, how could she possibly expect him to accept these two Hispanic kids, immigration status unknown, into his home?
“You can’t do this, Dani,” he said. “You’re doing it again. Jumping in without thinking things through, without considering the consequences.”
“I’ve thought through all the consequences I care about. They need a family, Jim. And you and I can give them that.”
“But I don’t want to.”
Dani squared her shoulders. “Well, then. Maybe I’ll just do it on my own.”
Hi, Cathy, I enjoyed this post!
Here are my thoughts to your questions:
1. I think your MC would likely be the 'unique character,' and another one could be the more 'normal' foil. Dani certainly started with a unique bang! I suppose Jim could be that foil, because the little I know of him seems rigid and predictable.
2. Regarding the touchy immigration question, I think a great story prompts thoughtful questions and hopefully initiates dialogue. So I think it's very timely.
I like the idea of older kids, because they can participate in conversation and expression of their feelings of fear, loss and hope. Regardless of the kids' ages, are you planning on having your MC consider fostering and then adoption? What a great opportunity to view the potential of the MC's politician husband to love the kids and therefore find his own anti-immigration views challenged as the process unfolds.
3. Great passage - it shows Jim in full control of his children but apparently not with his wife whose compassion for the Hispanic children might be stronger than their marriage. I also liked how Dani thought about the Oreo image but then cautioned herself about sounding racist - like she's talking herself into the decision she seems to have all but made.
I'd love to learn more about your evolving search for the gray area!
1. I'm glad you asked #1 because I was wondering that too! It occurred to me that in some ways the MC could be both - super normal, and very particular, but I took the exercise to mean it would be illuminating and entertaining to surround the MC with those are more extreme.
2. This thought makes wonder if the situation might even be more tied to current events. Perhaps a parent died making the crossing and the other is in jail? Even worse if those circumstances can be connected directly to legislation that Jim endorses.
3. Love the dialog and exchange. I get so much of Danica's reasoning and her relationship with stick in the mud politician. What I'd more of is her raw longing for more children.
Love the process here!
So you said,"Like double-stuffed Oreos." And I was like, "Oh, my, I don't think that's okay." Which was why your follow up was perfect. "If she wanted those two children, she’d better not ever let that thought out. Even in her head, it sounded racist." Exactly.
I agree, a baby might not work. I like the two young children idea--there could be more attachment there, Dani has perhaps been part of their lives for a while.
This is a touchy subject, so there is some bravery involved in tackling it. It feels real, like you are not trying to make a statement but just giving a scenario which entertains us, yet is illuminating at the same time. I'd say that means your lesson succeeded.
I must say, I *LOVE* the change you're making in the (now) children. So much more poignant. (BTW, they also act like foster/adopted kids, who--I can tell you--can be the most insensitive kids on the planet.)
The passage is so sharp it doesn't feel free-written at all. It's highly entertaining, in a serious way. “Stop thinking like a political candidate for a second and think like a human being. What is going to happen to them if we don’t?” That makes me think, too, so there's illumination here as well.
Nice work, you're using this workshop well.
In reply to this post by Julie Trelstad
Love your thought on #2. Will be pondering that.
In reply to this post by DonaldMaass
I feel vindicated as a writer. :)
Kathleen, you needed vindication as a writer? No way. You’re laying these words down in minutes and it’s fabulous!
1. Danica definitely seems like the ‘anyone’ characters thus far.
2. You make a good point about a 50/50 readership. If 50% are like minded then your novel won’t say anything half your readers don’t want to hear. (Does that make sense?) If this DM prompt is a serious one for you, then you’ll have to show how both sides of an issue are valid in their own ways. I don’t envy you the task but, boy, you’ll have a remarkable story if you can pull this off.
3. Your free writing was smooth, engaging, entertaining. I could see where you were headed so I think that makes it illuminating as well. But I'm no expert.
A final thought about Jim which might tie into #2.
I can see Jim objecting to the adoption on a personal level--adoptions, especially of older kids, are a challenging commitment. But I don’t buy the adoption being perceived as detrimental to his career. If you're looking shades of gray (sorry) should Jim be more multi-dimensional? People, in their jobs, have to do things they find abhorrent. Firing people is one example. He might believe that sacrificing his career over one issue doesn’t serve the greater good, whether the gg is supporting his family, or championing other causes. Sometimes you have to pick your battles. I’m just tossing around potential motivation. Don’t get me wrong--I don’t like politicians regardless of their spots but it feels too easy to make Jim purely bad.
Lastly, I think you’re brilliant for touching on the mental gymnastics we play with PC. Danica thought-policed herself, to herself. This is an interesting avenue to explore for a character who lives in this world where there’s no room for even one verbal misstep. (I wouldn’t last five minutes.)
Overall, well done!!
I truly enjoyed this passage-- the dialogue is authentic and I enjoy the subject matter! I'm in suspense, and entertained for sure-- can't wait to find out what happens next! As for your questions, I LOVE quirky and unique character; and go all in for the political topics-- as long as it isn't "preachy" I'll bet you can pull it off (some people can be "touchy" on those topics, but if the rest of the story is written skillfully I'm sure readers can forgive that-- as to changing your story line to suit the tastes/views of others: do what your writerly instinct tells you). :)
In reply to this post by CathyV
You are absolutely right about Jim. I sensed that he was too 2D (in the worst possible way!) in these excerpts, because I don't really know him yet. But yes, my intent is for him to be a really, really, really amazingly good man struggling with challenges to his core world view. Otherwise it would make no sense for Danica to be with him at all. I want them to be struggling to reconnect with the love they once had as they're being pulled in opposite directions.
And I know I'm replying to all this way after the fact...but I just realized I'd missed some responses! :)
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